Using Privilege for Good

August 23, 2013

I like it when people use their own privilege for good. I've run across this phenomenon a couple of times here recently. So, here's MArk Ruffolo, using his all-American, lovable, hot, rich, white, straight, masculine privilege to give support to the citizens of Mississippi where only 1 medically safe, legal abortion clinic remains open.

I am a man. I could say this has nothing to do with me. Except I have two daughters and I have a mother who was forced to illegally have an abortion in her state where abortion was illegal when she was a very young woman. It cost $600 cash. It was a traumatizing thing for her. It was shameful and sleazy and demeaning. When I heard the story I was aghast by the lowliness of a society that would make a woman do that. I could not understand its lack of humanity; today is no different.
 
Kudos to Mr. Ruffalo, and kudos to his momma for sharing her story. Call me a bleeding heart liberal if you want, but it was my conservative momma who taught me to use my luck and privilege to help marginalized people around me.

Every few years now, a fatal tornado hits a newly and inexpensively organized suburban area in a state otherwise filled with nature-rich landscapes as old as the Earth herself. Oklahoma, land of the Red Human and land of the red conservative, is made diversely of green hills, ancient rocky mountains, and dry prairie. Through all of her body, rivers and creeks spread like veins carrying water to and from lakes like organs giving us more shoreline than any other of the United States. She’s beautiful and hearty. But listen: Hell hath no fury like Nature unconcerned with humans who try to squeeze quick buildings into spaces she has claimed forever. Competitiveness between our natural state and our modern state may be inherent, but high death tolls don’t have to be the result.

I cried myself to sleep last night on my boyfriend’s shoulder after watching the news as the 2nd round of deadly tornadoes hit our state. My love for this place and her people are deep. Her pain is my pain. Oklahoma’s environment has provided her people with some of the most awe-inspiring views available from Earth. Those views can go from breathtaking:

oklahoma storm

Photo by Sterlin Harjo.

to heart-breaking:

moore tornado

Photo by Sue Ogrocki, AP.

in less than an hour. Oklahoma has given me soil to garden and sun and rain to grow food. Oklahoma has given me people unlike any others, strong women and sweet men. Oklahoma deserves our respect and intelligence. As her people, we should vow to work with her temper in order to keep each other healthy and safe.

If we build structures, especially public and other high-traffic structures, we must consider the environment in which we build. It is clear that environment includes the natural disasters an area is prone to. City planners, building contractors, and architects constructing facilities in Oklahoma should consider the frequency of tornadoes past. Take note where folks who came before us to this land did not settle. Avoid those areas. If not, make sure all buildings have tornado shelters. For public buildings paid for by taxpayers, like schools, people will gladly support such preparedness measures even if it means a bit more money. Safe rooms can double as music rooms, like the one I went to as a child in the 80s at Wewoka Elementary (go Tigers!). Our kids are worth it.

C’mon lawmakers, city leaders, citizens, make this happen. Other states do it. California has building codes created to try to keep people safe from earthquakes. They work. Buildings that already existed which did not meet building codes can be and have been successfully retrofitted. We can encourage this type of safety measure on the state or the city level. There are also federal grant moneys that towns can use to build community shelters. Look here on FEMA’s website.

Speaking of FEMA, a note to our Senators Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn and other fiscal hawks and anti-government types: While Oklahoma does not have the preventative measures in place or the relief and helping funds available to take care of this giant disaster, we need as much federal relief help as possible. Your politics are out of touch with the people and the state you represent.

To my fellow Okies, voters, and citizens: The politics of our US Senators matter. Did you know that our Senators both voted to block funding to FEMA when the agency’s resources were exhausted during Hurricane Sandy? Did you know that the city of Moore was in the midst of applying for a FEMA grant to help build tornado shelters for the community when the tornado that has killed 24 people, some children at the end of a school day, hit? The shelters were supposed to have beed approved and built by now, but paperwork stalled the process and FEMA didn’t have available funds.

I’m not saying that every single tragic death could have been prevented. But Oklahoma files more federal disaster and fire declarations than every other state, save California and Texas – both states way bigger and more populated than OK. Our geographical position and topographical constitution make for incredible storms, and these storms can be destructive. And so, we must learn to live and build in better harmony with our storms, and we must elect  representatives who understand our particular needs. Environment and politics are connected.

Surely this is one area where progressives, liberals, moderates, and conservatives can all agree. We don’t even have to rely so heavily on big, scary federal relief to clean up our mess if we can take precautions to reduce the size of these messes. So let’s. Until then, Okies need all the moneys available to retrofit and adapt existing structures. I’m not going to resort to name calling; I’m just gonna say that guys like Inhofe and Coburn are out of touch with modern needs of our people and our state. I suggest we vote them out of office. And if you’re not registered to vote, C’MON. SRSLY.

Oklahoma deserves our best. Now to begin the healing process.

Oklahoma: land of roaming gentle giant bison, Woody Guthrie sweet socialist folk music, the most beautiful sunsets in the world, and strange obsessions with causing our fellow Okies pain. Especially apparent recently as we just had the anniversary of the Oklahoma City Bombing, we seem compelled to revisit every single detail of violent acts perpetrated by bro-guys like Timothy McVeigh. Yesterday, a little tiny story appeared in the local news about “a new exhibit” going on display at the OKC National Memorial:

A new exhibit is coming to the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum.

The Mercury Marquis driven by bomber Timothy McVeigh at the time of his arrest will go on display later this year.

Visitors will also be able to watch video from the traffic stop.

We will impound a car for parking on the wrong piece of concrete, but we will handle with kitty mittens the useless car of a killer just to save it to look at. Set it out, preserve is like an original Khalo so that we can all revisit the pain, relive the violence. A video (!), THE car, remember that we were the victims, violence gets more attention than all the millions of problems with our political system.

And this is NOT a cheap thrill:

The exhibit is part of a $5 million project that will bring some big changes to the museum and memorial.

Weird, sadomasochist, goofball Oklahoma: I guess I still love you anyway.

Some of you may have seen the story about the “Oklahoma Grandmother Arrested in Keystone XL Protest” or the “79-Year-Old Oklahoma Grandmother Locks Her Neck to Heavy Machinery in Keystone XL Pipeline Protest.” Here’s a pic of her doing her thing:

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It didn’t take me long to realize that this bad-ass woman has been here on Progress on the Prairie before when I took some pictures of people at the rally against the horrible, awful Personhood Amendment.  Her name is Nancy Zorn; here she is in that signature pink and purple outfit:

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She makes me proud to be an Okie.

Spring

I first tasted wild onions many years ago at a Wild Onion Dinner in my rural hometown of Holdenville, Ok.  I loved them, all cooked in a country Creek Indian way with lots of bacon fat and a little bit of scrambled egg and salt. Their flavor is spicy and hearty and somewhere in between a chive and a green onion, but the best thing about them is: THEY ARE FREE AND ABUNDANT. This morning, after I dropped off my 12-year-old at her middle school, I went foraging.

I think the best place to find wild onions if you’re a city dweller in the Midwest is in abandoned or no longer operating public parks. You don’t have to worry about some old codger being all “Get off my lawn!” and you don’t have to worry about the city “maintaining” the property as anally. No chemicals, no mowing, all natural and wild. A quick drive around the less chemically sprayed parts of town means driving around the less affluent and less developed areas. In Tulsa, the northern, western, and eastern edges of town are all havens holding plots of these precious, delicious veggies. Take a spoon or some other digging device with you to help pull up the entire plant, root and all, cuz the bulb is worthy.

Then bring them home and clean them:

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Cut the flagellous roots off, fry, salt and enjoy.

Mmmmm.

Spring foraging.

Okay, here I go, here I go again. Girls, what’s my weakness? Beyoncé, okay then. Beyoncé’s new track “Bow Down \ I Been On” is awesome. For several reasons. It’s just the kind of rap that we might expect from Her Highness: simple and melodic with a message of female financial independence and empowerment.

Sure the lyrics aren’t that clever; she’s always rhyming girls with world: “I know when you were little girls\ you dreamt of being in my world \ Don’t forget, don’t forget it \ Respect that \ Bow down, bitches.” But, that’s not the point with Beyoncé. Her message is that little girls shouldn’t give up on their dreams. Ever. Every young person has Queen-of-the-Mountain material inside. Her message is a product of a particularly American class-mobile ideal of independence and the free market narrative of merit-based value. Deal with it. She not only deals with it, never misrepresenting her comfortable, middle-class upbringing and loving and doting parents (see the picture of a young Beyoncé in pageant attire surrounded by trophies and awards on a suburban fireplace mantle that she included as the cover image for this track on her website), but she embraces her success within the capitalist music system.

In the “I Been On” section of the track, her revelling in financial success (and her Southern drawl) is loud and clear: “Gold every-thang\ Gold-ass chains \ Gold-ass rangs.” At least she is spending and recirculating her money, not psychopathically hoarding it. In the footsteps of many before her, she identifies as a Southern, Black, female, “self-made” millionaire, and she’s enjoying her lifestyle and using her fame to try to inspire others. She’s a straight-forward, non-subtle, mainstream, pop star. And mostly, we are missing out if we expect anything else from her. But, she delivers something more – her own brand of womanist feminism – anyway.

The opening rap subverts the stereotypical representation of women in relationship to other humans, most commonly as wives or mothers: “I took some time to live my life \ But don’t think I’m just his little wife \ Don’t get it twisted \ This my shit \ Bow down, bitches.” Her recent status as mother and the naming of her “Mrs. Carter” tour has been read by many as a loss of her independence. Motherhood has even made her a target of strange moralistic criticism. Considering B’s recent family-centered life choices, one womanist blogger was compelled to critique “Bow Down” for its lack of “age appropriateness.” What is this, Sunday School? Let’s also remember that marriage for Black Americans has a history parallel to the story of slavery and emancipation, so the fact of her naming her most recent tour after her legal, married name is a celebration of equality for Blacks. And, considering that she – Beyoncé – will keep every single penny of her earnings no matter what name she goes by or performs under is a marker of a significant historical feminist victory. Furthermore, the prenup signed by both her and Jay Z includes a clause that he is to pay her for every child she bears with his paternity compensating her for any lost income due to pregnancy, birth, or child-rearing. Um, paid maternity leave? Can you say feminist economic utopia?

Other bloggers, including Sarah Dean from the Huffington Post, read the repetition of the word “bitches” as a put-down directed at other women. Dean even claims that B is taking a cue from Jay Z and the like, using the word “bitches” to dismiss and degrade women. But I don’t hear the rap like that at all. I hear it as reclamation of the term that has been incredibly popular in the rap genre. I read Beyonce’s use of the term “bitches” as a direct shake-off of criticism, regardless of the gender of the person constructing the criticism, aimed at diminishing Beyonce’s woman-made, confident achievements. It is hip-hop hipster irony. Ironic because she, yes SHE, is posturing and swaggering in a traditionally male industry, in a traditionally white and male mega-wealthy club. She is taking the term from the men and re-associating it, not with women, but with critics. And, come on. She’s right: that’s what critics do. We bitch – about pop culture, about music, about film. Call it analysis and evaluation if you prefer, but it’s still bitchin’.

Especially considering in the second portion of the track “I Been On” when she raps in an electronically male voice, this track is all about her having fun in a character and poking at the boys club that her husband inhabits. She has an all-female band and dance crew, she rose to stardom from an all-female group, and she attributes part of her success publicly and repeatedly to her mother: “Kiss my Mama \ Show that love.” She celebrates traditional, hetero femininity but while respecting women’s work and cooperation as non-traditional sources of power. Ultimately, the artificial deep voice that is really her own reveals gender as a mere performance just as much as rap is a performance. Her critique is of mainstream, over-masculinized, rap culture as a product of patriarchy, not at all of other women.

I’ve said it once, and I will say it again. Expecting Beyoncé to live up to a Yankee-made, college-educated standard of feminism is futile. Expecting Beyoncé to rap intellectual like Mos Def – hottie that he is – is just as futile. Nevertheless, she is a more influential feminist, and rapper, than most of us will ever be. So…

Bowing down,

Spring

Death to Tyrants!

March 17, 2013

My friend Ivy just turned 3 years old, and so I made her a shirt. She’s reeeeeally into Robin Hood right now, and she likes to say “DEATH TO TYRANTS!” and pretend sword fight. Which is adorable.

So in honor of her incredible imagination and fiery democratic spirit, I put the phrase on a cute-sweetie-princess-flowery-sweetheart-darling camisole: 

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